A New Normal: Preparing for the Return of Employees

It’s never wise to make predictions about the future at any time, let alone during the challenging times we currently find ourselves in. But it’s reasonable to say eventually most employees will return to the office.

When that time comes, however, the workplace won’t immediately revert to what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, managers tasked with overseeing a business’ facilities should anticipate a number of new considerations being added to their short and long term plans—especially if your company is planning an office relocation.

A New Normal

Before the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, companies planning an office move considered factors such as cost, facility size and office amenities, among others, when choosing between various options. While these considerations are still very important, the pandemic has at least temporarily injected a number of new variables managers must contemplate.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, some businesses could begin reopening as early as next month, though he emphasized local conditions would largely dictate this timeline. A resurgence of the virus later in the year was, he said, also a very real possibility.

Until a vaccine is developed, which could take between 12 and 18 months, business leaders will need to continue taking every precaution available to ensure the health of their workforce and community. Creating safe facilities for their employees should be one of their top priorities.

Regardless of whether you’re searching for a new office or hoping to optimize your current office space, here are a few factors to consider.

1. Is it possible for employees to maintain a safe distance from others?

Over the past months, many Americans have internalized the idea of maintaining six feet of distance from others. It’s a new reality, and it will need to continue for the time being once employees begin returning to the office.

Office size has always been one of the top considerations made when selecting a new facility, but it’s perhaps now more important than ever. Cubicles and desks will need to be at least six feet apart, and common areas will need to be large enough for employees to maintain a safe distance from one another. During meetings, employees will need to sit at least six feet apart, so conference tables and conference rooms must be large enough to accommodate.

If this simply isn’t possible, you should consider having a portion of your workforce continue working from home. Although this is usually not ideal from a company culture standpoint, it will give you flexibility if moving to a larger office space isn’t currently an option for your company.

2. Is it possible to increase ventilation rates in the office?

The enclosed space of an office poses one of the greatest challenges for managers hoping to transition their workforce back into a traditional work environment. Air doesn’t always circulate in and out of the office enough, which can lead to the transmission of disease.

Office managers should consult with the building engineer to determine if it’s possible to either increase ventilation rates into the office or increase the amount of outside air that enters into the ventilation system.

Older office buildings may lack updated ventilation systems, which could limit the effectiveness of the previously mentioned measures. If that’s the case, managers should again consider whether employees should continue working from home, or, in more extreme cases, if a new office space is necessary.

3. Is the office’s Internet connectivity sufficient?

Traveling long distances to attend business meetings was becoming increasingly less common, even before the pandemic started. It’s likely the events of the past two months have only accelerated this trend, leading to more and more virtual conferences.

With video meetings becoming the new normal, Internet bandwidth has never been important. Before moving into a new facility or returning your own, speak with the building engineers about the facility’s current Internet speeds. For example, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) video services such as RingCentral Office and Intermedia Unite require at least 28 Megabits per second. You must then multiply this amount by the number of employees who might be using the service at any one time and then double this amount to ensure you’re prepared for the busiest periods, according to Verizon.

Ultimately, the amount of Internet bandwidth required by your company depends on the number of employees working in the office at any one time as well as the services you need to utilize throughout the day. Many Internet providers offer consultative services to small businesses looking to optimize their digital infrastructure, and they can serve as an important resource during periods of transition at a business.

4. Can we limit or eliminate high touch areas?

The focus on areas where germs are spread has never been greater. There was a time when turning a doorknob was something people did without giving it a second thought. Times have changed.

Thankfully, many new office spaces possess modern amenities that limit the number of high touch areas. To use an earlier example, it’s worth it to look into whether your office building is able to eliminate doorknobs and instead have employees open doors with their elbows or shoulders.

Light switches are another feature of the office many hands touch over the course of the day. Look into whether it’s possible to install motion sensor lights for rooms in the office. And finally, many bathroom sinks and toilets already have touch-less functionality. If your office doesn’t already have these modern amenities, it’s probably time to start determining whether installing them is feasible.

Although it’s true the world has changed considerably in just months, the fundamentals of facility management have not. Managers who remain focused on building a workplace for the modern times while still preserving the features that made the office a great place to work all along will find themselves well-positioned for the future, regardless of the changes that may come.

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